“With great power comes greater responsibility,” the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while enhancing the sentence given to some Maharashtra police personnel in a custodial death case from three to seven years.
The apex court said that such incidents, involving police, tend to erode people’s confidence in the criminal justice system more than in cases involving private individuals.
A bench of Justices N V Ramana and M M Shantanagoudar said it was important that police need to recognise the concept of ‘democratic policing’, where crime control was not only the end but the means to achieve this order was also equally important. “It may not be out of context to remind that the motto of Maharashtra State Police is ‘Sadrakshnaya Khalanighrahanaya’ (Sanskrit: “To protect good and to Punish evil”), which needs to be respected. Those who are called upon to administer the criminal law must bear, in mind, that they have a duty not merely to the individual accused before them, but also to the State and to the community at large.
“Such incidents involving police usually tend to deplete the confidence in our criminal justice system much more than those incidents involving private individuals,” the bench said. According to the prosecution, officers of Maharashtra Police while on a patrol picked up Joinus alleging theft at 1 am on June 23, 1993. It was alleged that the police tied him to an electric pole outside his house and beaten him with sticks. After taking him to various places, he was locked up at 3.55 AM that day but was found dead in the morning. The trial court convicted the police officers and sentenced them to three years’ imprisonment. The high court upheld the conviction under Section 330 of the IPC (voluntarily causing hurt to extort confession, or to compel restoration of property).
“The manner in which the deceased and his family members were taken into custody reflects pure act of lawlessness and does not befit the conduct of the Police. The factual narration of the events portrayed herein narrate a spiteful events of police excessiveness. The motive to falsely implicate Joinus for a crime he was alien to was not befitting the police officers investigating crimes. “The manner in which Joinus was taken during late night from his house for investigation ignores the basic rights this country has guaranteed its citizen. It is on record that injuries caused to the individual were in furtherance of extracting a confession,” the apex court said. While enhancing the punishment, the top court said that since it was the police who are the violators of law, proportionately stringent punishment must be mandated so as to have deterrent effect and instill confidence in the society.
“In the facts and circumstances of this case, the punishment of three-year imprisonment imposed by the trial court under section 330 of IPC would be grossly insufficient and disproportional. We deem it appropriate to increase the term of sentence to maximum imposable period under Section 330 of IPC i.e., seven years of rigorous imprisonment, while maintaining the fine imposed by the trial court,” the court said.